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Let's look at the profile's best side

David Bartlett explains what foundation-stage assessment really means for teachers

Recent press coverage, as well as the inspectors' report Transition from the Reception Year to Year 1, has been critical of the foundation-stage profile. Some of the comment arises from misunderstandings of the profile's rationale and the way in which it is intended to be used.

Other comment, particularly in the media, actually misrepresents the profile. Stories about requirements for lengthy reports to parents are simply myth and reflect poorly on our national press. The time is overdue for some facts.

To begin with, the profile is not an invention of those who developed it, but is based on the foundation-stage curriculum for three to five-year-olds. The profile scales contain the early-learning goals for the foundation stage, with some additional items to reflect the progress of children working towards the early-learning goals or of those beginning to move beyond them. It covers the six areas of learning in the foundation stage because this was the strong preference of practitioners arising from the national consultation carried out prior to the profile's development.

Although the total number of items in the 13 scales is indeed 117, teachers do not have to make judgments in relation to each of these for each child.

In using the profile, practitioners have to be familiar with the 13 early-learning goals and make and record judgments in relation to these, when they are satisfied that children are achieving them. This is quite different from making judgments for each child in relation to all 117 items.

In supporting their judgments, teachers do not need excessive amounts of evidence. They need only their knowledge of their children and the evidence they would normally accumulate from day-to-day teaching and learning.

However, they should be able to say why they are making particular judgments for particular children so they need to know the goals and to be able to talk about them.

Although the profile represents a summary of a child's achievements by the end of reception, it is not designed to be completed from scratch at this time. If used in this way it would indeed be an empty tickbox exercise. It is designed to be used on an on-going basis throughout the year, with judgments being made and recorded gradually from the evidence that arises from the assessments that are part and parcel of on-going teaching and learning.

Teachers do not have to produce extensive reports for parents detailing every goal and commenting on them. They do have to report on each curriculum area, and for the foundation stage this means the six areas of learning. They do not have to use the individual profile booklets, either for reporting to parents or for on-going recording. Teachers can record progress within their own record-keeping systems.

The profile serves a number of purposes. By the time it is completed it can provide information for parents and Year 1 teachers. Ofsted is correct in highlighting the difficulties that Year 1 teachers may have in interpreting information based on the early-learning goals since these are expressed differently from national curriculum attainment targets.

The answer to this is to help teachers interpret the information, something that a number of education authorities are addressing with government funding.

The profile emphasises the importance of on-going assessment and blurs the artificial distinction between this and end-of-year assessment. It also provides information about the progress of individuals and classes that can be used by teachers (both in reception and Year 1) in planning learning.

Where teachers moderate each other's work, the profile provides a powerful opportunity for professional development, for example, in meetings where practitioners discuss not only the assessments but also how they are teaching.

The Ofsted report must be treated with caution as it was carried out last year not long after the profile had been launched, when practitioners were still developing their understanding and use of it. To make changes now, so soon after its introduction, would be an example of the inappropriate way in which educational change is often managed in this country. What is needed is proper support and guidance from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and the DfES (something that has largely been lacking to date) for a development that supports effective early-years teaching and assessment and places trust in teachers' professional judgment.

David Bartlett is co-ordinator for assessment, Birmingham learning and culture

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